Why football is played over the Christmas period in the UK, from medieval traditions to hard-fought workers rights

6 mins read

AFTER enjoying a Christmas day feast, Britain’s best footballers will be gearing up for a busy sporting calendar.

Normally, teams will play twice in a week – once on Boxing Day and again on New Year’s Day.

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Football fans are treated to a feast of the beautiful game over the Christmas period[/caption]

Sure, it will irk the likes of Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola, who have both been critical of the tradition.

And with other European leagues taking a winter break and giving players a well-earned rest, you can see their point.

But why is football played over the Christmas period on our shores? Let SunSport explain.


Before football was officially created and the FA was formed in 1863, there were variations of the beautiful game.

In fact, historians can go back to as far as 1170 when medieval football or mob football was played in the streets.

Often, these games took place over Easter and during the Christmas period.

Today, because we are such a nostalgic country, you still get these events occurring.

One is The Kirkwall Ba game on New Year’s Day and another is The Royal Shrovetide village game in Ashbourne, Derbyshire.


Medieval football dates back to 1170 and took place over the Christmas holiday[/caption]

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The Kirkwall Ba game takes place still today on New Year’s Day[/caption]


In the late 1800s there was a time when football was played nearly every day over the Christmas period, including Christmas day.

“Football was played on Christmas day because it was a day off and there was a tradition of public working-class events,” history professor Martin Johnes revealed.

“It was also at times played on Boxing Day meaning two games in two days.”

That also allowed the working class the opportunity to go to games on one of their few days off and get out of their crowded, cramped homes.

“For the working class, whose residences were often uncomfortable, overcrowded and unappealing, a rare day free from work was reason to take to the streets, not relax at home,” Johnes said.

Bank holiday legislation also played an important role.

“The 1871 Bank Holidays Act gave Boxing day this designation in England and Wales,” Johnes added.

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A crowd of men and boys enjoy a match between Brighton and Crystal Palace on Christmas Day in 1920[/caption]

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Arsenal beat Chelsea 2-0 on Boxing Day in 1956[/caption]

“It had not done the same for Christmas day or Good Friday because they were established days of rest and worship.”

If Klopp is concerned about today’s crowded fixture list, lucky he wasn’t manager of the Reds in 1913.

Liverpool played Manchester City at home on Christmas Day, then the return game on Boxing Day, and another match at Anfield against Blackburn on December 27. That’s three games in three days.


Christmas day football became a thing of the past by the 1960s with families beginning to come together more.

The improvement of living conditions had a hand in that, with food, presents and decorations becoming more affordable to the masses.

“Communal entertainments were clearly on the decline as the festival took greater root in the home,” Johnes divulged.

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Christmas day football became a thing of the past by the 1960s[/caption]

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Today, fans love the busy Christmas period of football [/caption]

“Football shifts just to Boxing day, as Christmas Day becomes more family orientated and more importantly public transport becomes more and more limited.”

The last Christmas Day fixtures in England took place in 1965.

Blackburn Rovers beat Blackpool 1-0 in the first division, while Coventry recorded a thrilling 5-3 win over Wrexham in the third division.


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